Luis Suarez has been doing his darnedest to kill off work-related email in favor of internal social software. He has been at it since February of 2007 - yes, two years! In recent weeks, he has seen less than 20 work emails - per week. A World Without Email - Year 2, Weeks 49 to 51 (EMail Is Where Knowledge Goes to Die).
While I am amazed at his steadfastness, there was something in his description of what he does instead to communicate with people. (He promises a longer article on all the things he does.) The thing that caught my attention has to do with the regular flow of questions and answers that he responds to as an expert in his field within his company.
Indeed, the good old Q&A that every single knowledge worker engages with time and time again during the course of the week and, in most cases, several times a day. As you can imagine, using micro-blogging/-sharing tools for Q&A already provides me with lots of advantages to help me reduce my email clutter even more.
I've thought about these things before, but the connection just rang home for me today when I saw Luis' article. Assuming the technology is there, people looking for help on a given topic should be able to find it - and the person who knows about it - easily. This means two things:
- Experts become more findable. If the expert writes in public on topics that they know well, then people can find her.
- Even better. If the expert records Q&A in public, not only can people find her, they can get answers to those questions that are common to many others. And for the uncommon questions, it gives a better starting point - and a new topic to post.
I don't think I appreciated the second aspect previously - or at least not in this context. Usually, the idea of having better conversation related to better personal conversations, rather than the expertise-level conversation. I mostly considered the first and thought about drawbacks about being too easily found (and disturbed). With this connection, it's no longer just about publicity, it is also about being able to have higher-level conversations when you are contacted. Doing regular Q&A out in the open (whether that's "open" to the company or to the world) leaves the expert free to focus on the more interesting conversations.
This idea has a lot of value, there is always a caveat. While writing in public is great for other people looking for help, there are times (and technology combinations), where writing in public makes it more difficult for the most common user of the expert's material: the expert herself. This is one of my personal frustrations with diverting my personal online attention away from this blog to other places, where it is more difficult to retrieve my (fabulous) words later on: Twitter, LinkedIn Answer, Ning, Facebook, etc. There is a great set of comments on exactly this topic from my friends Lilia Efimova and Doug Cornelius.
Note: Luis works for IBM - the technology is there (see the comments discussion). And for solo entrepreneurs or small businesses, we have had the technologies to make this work well for a long time. Unfortunately, there are a lot of organizations out there who do not have access to the tools that would enable this kind of work.
[Photo: "Lost and Found But Useless" by cacho_please]